Most teenagers don’t spend much time thinking about public space in cities, but Hadley Dyer is trying to change that. The Toronto writer’s new book, Watch This Space: Designing, Defending And Sharing Public Spaces, introduces young people to the concept of public space and chronicles the use of classical music, high-pitched noises and curfews to control their behaviour in those spaces.
“They (teenagers) are pretty appalled when they hear about the different ways people have tried to drive young people out of public spaces,” Dyer says. “It’s just so wrong and they understand that immediately.”
The book, illustrated by Marc Ngui and published by Kids Can Press, explains that shopping malls are not public spaces. It explores the privacy-versus-security issues associated with the use of surveillance cameras in the streets. And it highlights how the suburbs and parents’ preoccupation with “stranger danger” limit freedom of movement for young people.
Coming as it does in the midst of a municipal election campaign, Dyer’s book also serves as a reminder of the voices that aren’t being heard in the current race.
Do teenagers feel safe using bike lanes that consist of lines painted on streets? A summer pilot project that would see the installation of bike lanes protected by barriers along University Avenue will be great for Bay Street workers and couriers, but is it of much use to teenagers? A more meaningful pilot project would involve asking young people who live downtown and in the suburbs to identify the streets they use most and then testing dedicated bike lanes on those routes.
This election campaign is an opportunity for teenagers to demand a greater say on everything from waterfront development to makeovers of public space like Nathan Phillips Square. They could press for more skateboard parks, basketball courts, free wireless Internet zones and family-sized condos in the downtown.
The city of Rome’s master plan requires that all new developments take the things that children value into account — play spaces, meeting places and pedestrian routes — along with environmental, heritage and other factors.
Cities that are great for kids are great in general, so why shouldn’t young people in Toronto receive the same consideration?
Dyer says when she discusses public space with teenagers, they mention “being shushed a lot.” An election campaign is an opportunity for young people to make noise that candidates for city council will heed.
– April Lindgren teaches at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, where she specializes in local news and urban affairs reporting; email@example.com.